Brantley Hargrove earned his bachelor’s in journalism at UNT and has since written for magazines like Texas Monthly, D Magazine and Cowboys & Indians and has upcoming features scheduled for upcoming issues of Popular Mechanics and WIRED. His forthcoming nonfiction book, The Man Who Caught the Storm, is slated for release in spring 2018 by Simon & Schuster.
Back in 2003, when I first took my seat in an undergrad journalism course, I was immediately certain that George Getschow was unlike any professor I’d ever come across. He still looked every bit the rangy, physical footballer he’d been at Iowa State decades before. He had actually risen to the highest echelons in the subject he taught, managing bureaus for one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers. But what distinguished him most from every teacher I’d ever had was this: He challenged me, he expected more from me, and that was a sensation to which I was unaccustomed.
Here was a man who didn’t care about grades — who you knew would pass you whether you’d coasted or not, though the weight of his disappointment would be a punishment of its own. He knew editors out there wanted people who could do the work, and that they didn’t give a shit about your GPA.
From the start, he treated me like a reporter, not a student. He was always urging me to look at the world around and to see the stories out there, and what they might mean for the future. He had me writing about fracking before the word had even seeped into our common tongue. One of my earliest memories of George is sitting in his class right around the time Baghdad fell. We were watching a live cable news feed as Saddam Hussein’s statue pitched over in Firdos Square. He wanted his students to bear witness to history’s first draft, which we’d be writing ourselves soon enough.
He pressed me to be a better reader in order to become a better writer. He helped me shape my first published work, a feature about a student body builder’s obsessive regimen that ran in the NT Daily. I worked on that story through the semester and into the summer, and George guided me, even though he could just easily have spent that time floating around Lake Grapevine. For him, I think helping me grow was its own reward. I’d never seen that in a teacher before, and I’m sure I’ll never see its like again.
We’ve scrambled over a Native American mound and battleground on the North Texas prairie together, looking for history and for connections to great American literature. It was there, in Archer City, that George showed me how my surroundings and experiences could shape the stories I tell, even if they weren’t necessarily about me. I learned to look out, but also within, for the big ones — the projects that could consume years of my life.
School is out for good now, for George and for me. Fourteen years on, we still drink together and talk about writing. He’s still the best sounding board I’ve got when I need to rap about structure. To this day, I always feel better when I share a draft with him before sending it on to the editor, though now the stories are for national magazines and, most recently, a Manhattan book-publishing house. Where I’d be without George’s intervention in my life as a writer is one of those unanswerable questions I don’t spend too much time thinking about. But I doubt I’d be doing what I am now. I doubt I would have known how to look without as well as within for the biggest story I’ve told so far.
Cathy Booth Thomas was a correspondent and bureau chief for Time magazine for 22 years. But she claims she didn’t learn a thing about writing until she started up Mayborn magazine at UNT in 2008.
I hate seeing George Getschow these days. He’s always pestering me to finish my book.
With George cheering me on, I wrote the first chapter for a Mayborn conference workshop back in 2008. I had no idea what I was doing. We used to meet at Big Shucks in East Dallas where we’d settle into a booth with cracked red leather seats and eat grilled fish tacos. George would grill me: What was the underlying theme? Why was I writing the book? Who was my audience? I didn’t have a clue. He made me really really, really uncomfortable. (And no, I’m not removing that “really” from the sentence, George. Quit editing.)
By our third meeting, I was putting on weight but at least I had a theme, thanks to George.
Then he roped me into editing Denton Live and Mayborn magazine. Not that I knew what narrative nonfiction was. Seven years went by, and I didn’t write another word for the book. He didn’t prod me. He had his own book he was procrastinating on. We had our plates full.
Every May we met at a Starbucks near his house in Flower Mound and hashed out final edits of our students’ stories written. He’d arrive with his hair flying in every direction, the very vision of an absent-minded professor. He’d plop down a stack of student stories with comments scrawled like hasty hieroglyphics across the page. His squiggles would cram the white borders and sneak in between lines and crawl around to the back of a page. You couldn’t read a darn thing. But the very wildness of his appearance — and his excited comments — spoke to his passion. It’s about the story, dammit. Nothing else matters. Not eating, not sleeping, not combing your hair. The story.
This is the George I love.
I suck at writing nut grafs. In 24 years at Time mag, I think I wrote a dozen nut grafs that made it through the editing process without revision. George, nurtured in the School of The Wall Street Journal, is a MASTER of nut grafs. He can take a flimsy story with no seeming direction, just a bunch of lousy facts, and turn it into a narrative gem with a nut graf that summarizes the story and puts it into a larger context. He would sit in workshops with undergrad students and ask questions until the writer found the wider meaning of … rodeo roping. Seriously.
He was kind, too. I’d send him a pesky edit at 3 or 4 a.m. and he’d email back, Why are you up so late? That, along with a nice fix. Other times, he’d be rude as hell, basically telling me the story sucked and what the heck was I thinking with that lead? Afterwards, he’d always send me a carefully composed note telling me what a great editor I was. He did it to authors, too, hailing their “magnificent essay” or “engaging and well-written” piece, often after a total restructuring of their piece. Once he wrote an author by email: “It’s brilliant, bringing tears, raising ghosts, making us feel, making us think – and thus rising to the level of literature. I bow at the altar of your typewriter …. ” You can laugh, but authors pine for such hyperbolic praise. He’d sign every email, Adios.
That’s the George I love.
So, adios, George! Now get back to your book!
Garrett Getschow is a pilot in the US Air Force flying F22s out of Langley, Virginia. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 2013 and started four years on the soccer team as a forward. Oh, and he’s George’s son.
Dad’s students always ask the same question: “What’s it like to have George Getschow as your Father?” “Well, my girlfriend sure thinks he’s scary,” I say with a smirk. Then, I think, “If only you knew.”
Growing up with George Getschow is like turning in a story every morning, then anxiously awaiting his edits to come back. Only, instead of a story, it’s your life. The passion he puts into teaching, editing and writing is just a fraction of what he put into being a father.
Dad does everything in his power to make sure I am the best I could possibly be. Of over 80 collegiate regular season soccer games I played throughout the country, my parents didn’t miss a single one. Before each game, he would remind me why “this is the most important game of your life, remember to play with heart.” Because, in his mind, every game was. Every game was a chance to prove myself, and every game could be my last. If it were up to him, he would still call me every morning before I jump in my jet to tell me “this is the most important flight of your life.”
His passion was contagious. George Getschow was known by the other fans as “that crazy dad” that ran up and down the sideline yelling at No. 9 and the rest of the team. My teammates would often find me at half-time and ask, “Dude, your dad just yelled at me to ‘throw some wood in the fire!’ What does that even mean?” “He wants you to show more heart,” I would tell them. When I wasn’t playing up to his standards he would yell, “Get in the game, Garrett!” and when he sensed a goal nearing I would hear from across the field, “No. 9, put your dancing shoes on!” He never let me forget to play the best game I possibly could.
At the end of each game, the journalist in him came out. First, probing questions about how I thought I played, then detailed questions on individual parts of the game, then how I thought my performance this game would roll over to the next. In high school, the 30-minute drive home became a mini-press conference. In college, those father-son press conferences were at the nearest bar.
Growing up, I only knew him as Dad. It wasn’t until the Mayborn that I saw Professor Getschow at his finest: inspiring students to become published writers in Archer City, toasting his tribe of authors and reinvigorating literary nonfiction for hundreds of people each year at the Mayborn Conference.
After winning our conference championship, we skipped the press conference and had many toasts, as Dad always does. Because there’s no better way to celebrate a special occasion than with a toast. So, here’s to him, my dad.
Paul Knight has been an editor at Texas Monthly since 2011. Before that, he wrote for the Houston Press and Texas Observer.
I met George Getschow in journalism school. That was the beginning. At least, that is the easiest way to accurately describe my beginning with George.
I don’t remember much about journalism school before I met George. Except, interview your classmates. Write your own obituary. That kind of thing. In one freshman level newswriting course, taught by a professor who was not George, the professor opened the semester by reading a passage from a famous writer who had done some newspaper work. “Thump! Against the door. Another newspaper, another cruel accusation. Thump! Day after day, it never ends … To teach journalism: Circulation, Distribution, Headline Counting and the classical Pyramid Lead.” Thump, indeed.
Things were a bit different with George. Not long after we met, I drove him in my old white pickup from his house to a fancy downtown luncheon in Fort Worth to pass out flyers for the first Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. George sat on the passenger side of my truck, leaned back, in blue jeans and boots, talking about storytelling to me, a student, upright in department store slacks and loafers. I couldn’t understand much he said. I didn’t know about structure or plot or finding a proper ending. But George talked, and I listened. As we drove down the interstate and I changed lanes to pass an eighteen-wheeler, I looked over and two rear wheels of the trailer exploded. My heart jumped because I thought the boom from the blowout would shatter the windows of my truck. George looked over, shrugged, said something like, “Wow,” and continued his impromptu lecture on storytelling. That happened near the beginning of my time in journalism school with George.
He preached the benefits of journaling, and I have one from back then. I flip through it sometimes. It’s filled with stuff like this:
June 12, 2005: “Last night several of us sat, sweating, on the front porch, enduring gnats and crickets and listened to George read.”
June 13, 2005: “First assignment. I am out in a field.”
September 22, 2005: “I am tired from another late night of talking with George about writing, books, literature, life, and the business of being an author.”
November 10, 2005: “Back from the bar. We talked about the reason writers drink. It’s the only way to stop thinking about story.”
That was almost impossible with George. Before long, every day involved working on one story or another. There were trips to the library, lectures in class, workshop sessions, the front porch readings. There was always a book signing or an author’s speech to hear. Over time, when I told family or friends what I’d been up to, the way I explained George changed from “my professor” to “my mentor” to, simply, “George.”
I miss those days. I’m glad I saved the old journals, and the drafts and edits of the first Spurs of Inspiration we worked on together, and even the thousands of emails I have from George. I read through them an evening not too long ago, and one email stood out. I had just sold my first magazine piece, and my editor at the magazine had sent a note saying that he was impressed with the draft. I forwarded that to George and told him I was pleased. He responded, on October 27, 2005: “I am thrilled. Send me the American Legion piece and I’ll look at it. I left Virgil’s piece in my box in the j-office. I hope you can get started on the rewrite. We’re running out of time.”
Those days ended, of course, and of course, there’s no one like George. I can’t see him in retirement. I don’t think he will stop all this. There’s not enough booze out there to stop thinking about the next story that needs to be written, rewritten, or rewritten some more. There’s no ending to that, it can never be good enough. But I will stop now. Put down the pen and pour a glass. To George, cheers.
Bill Marvel spent almost 50 years in newspapers, sometimes reporting, sometimes editing. He has written three books, The Rock Island Line, Isles of the Damned (with R.V. Burgin) and Burning Ludlow; his freelance work has appeared in D, American Heritage’s Invention & Technology. American Way, and Smithsonian.
George is teaching class this evening, as it sometimes happens, in a Denton bar just off the main square. Because a classroom is often the worst place to learn something. His students are scattered at tables along one wall, notebooks open and waiting. Neon signs wash the room pink and gold. The young woman who has invited me to speak, one of the students, has met me at the door and escorted me back to meet George. The first impression is of a slightly balding head under a comb-over, an open, Midwestern face, and the hint of a grin. We have Dow Jones in common. George worked for the mighty Wall Street Journal; I worked for the less mighty, now defunct National Observer. Other than that, I have no idea who I’m meeting. But his students want to hear something about writing for newspapers. Opposite the students there is a raised platform, ordinarily the bandstand, and a single plastic chair where I am to sit. I am briefly introduced and after polite applause George asks me to talk about my career, how and why I got into it, what I’ve done with it, what I’ve learned that might be useful to his class. While I speak, George stands to the side; I do not understand yet that he is often too restless to sit. I start with the most useful thing I can tell them: My paper, The Dallas Morning News, that day announced a bruising round of layoffs, the first of many, leaving us shaken and numb. I go on to recap my career up to now. I’ve done everything you can do at a newspaper, I tell them, except sweep the parking lot. And that may be coming. George stands by silently. I cannot tell what he is thinking.
One of the students asks about the kind of writing I do, which is mostly features. How did I get into that, how did I learn to do it? I talk about the writers I read when I was starting out, how a few of us younger reporters had discovered Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and gone on to read James Agee and John Hersey. How over dinner we passed around worn copies of Esquire full of stories by Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion. This is how we wanted to write. This is who they should also be reading.
As I spoke, I began to sense an unease, a restless little breeze stirring the students’ faces as they shifted their eyes to George, to me, back to George. Had I overstayed my time, or overstepped some boundary? One of the students up front, grinning triumphantly, turned to George.
“You guys got together before class and cooked this up, didn’t you?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but George did. And he laughed that great, explosive George-cackle that those of us who spend any time around George instantly recognize. We had not cooked anything up together. But we had grown up almost in the same kitchen, bending over the same stove, stirring the same pots, working from the same recipes, sipping the same soup. What I had been telling George’s students that night on that bandstand in that neon soaked bar were the same things he had been telling them week in and out in the classroom: develop these disciplines, study these techniques, honor these values, read these books and learn from these writers.
I don’t know what use I was to George’s students that night. But I can tell you it was useful to me, and more rewarding and nourishing than I could have foreseen. It’s not that we were on the same wavelength. Often we are not, occasionally strenuously. When the book into which I had poured eight years was off the rails, a train wreck, I gave it to George. He read it, and over dinner and beers in a different bar one night he began asking me questions in that George manner. What was it about? Where was it going? Where was the climax, the place of greatest tension, the moment of maximum drama? I told him, and he said, “Start there.” I almost whined. I can’t start there. That’s the whole point of the book. I can’t give that away in Chapter One!
I drove home and threw myself into a chair, bruised and brooding. And slowly it occurred to me how I could start there. Or very close to there. My little train was back on the rails and running forward.
This is the thing about George Getschow. If you are very, very lucky in your writing life you may – just may – encounter somebody who is another writer and editor, but more than that. A teacher, but more than that. A friend, but more than that. Someone with whom you share that wave, but more than just the wave, because that person is often way ahead of you, or off to the side where he or she can see you and where you want to go more clearly than you yourself can see -- about writing and so many other things, because writing is never just about writing.
For me – and dozens of other writers I know – this person has been George. He has repaid me the honor of letting me watch over his shoulder from time to time when he thought I might know something about where he wanted to go.
Writing is not taught in the classroom. It is not even taught in a bar over beers. Writing is taught heart to heart.
Leah Waters is a recent graduate of the Mayborn School with an M.A. in journalism. While at UNT, she enjoyed verbal ping-pong sessions with George in one of the best classes of her academic career.
Beer in one hand, a fading pen in the other, I circle the last answer on the final exam for George’s investigative class on a chilly Monday in December. My fellow amigos and I are sitting around George and Cindy’s dining room table, a checkerboard of half-eaten pizza and drinks a centerpiece to this academic gesture meant to measure how much we’ve learned from the man himself. The questions were boring but necessary: FOIAs, its many exemptions and painfully specific queries about the Texas meat industry, a topic in which our entire class was inextricably engrossed for the months prior.
None of these things, I realized much later, we learned from George. He had a way of teaching us that looked (and sounded) a lot like an interrogation, his innocent but terrified students cowering and averting our eyes under the barrage from across the table.
George’s weekly assignment consisted of an impossibly thorough list of questions he wanted answered if we — graduate students implicitly self-assured of our own journalistic chops — were to have a publishable story. And week after exhausting week, our lectures from George about our not unproductive work never varied far from this: “Well, we don’t have squat, do we?”
His sharp blue eyes would ping across the room, daring anyone to challenge it.
And although we tried, he was right. We had everything — the good, the bad and the nauseatingly ugly — for our story, except, of course, The Squat: documents that would prove it.
Our team of tired writers left The Dallas Morning News on Monday nights like deflated balloons, discouraged but with just enough resolve to try and prove George wrong next week. I have full confidence that if we could have spent every day, all day for six months on this project, we could have found The Squat and probably gone on to publish something approaching a must-read story.
Instead, George gave us something more indelible than a byline ever could. He gave us a backbone. The kind that made governmental agencies nervous. The sort that left us with unreturned calls from authorities and unnamed sources with stories of their own. The variety that could intuit the right question to ask to get the answer we needed.
George can take a story that you think is clear and copious and turn it into Swiss cheese, each comment a dart fired into the gaping hole you didn’t see until he punctuated it with his Georgian perspective.
I ran across this gem George sent our team the last week we met, the same email that invited us to his house for dinner, conversation over the campfire and the inescapable final exam we would take: “I realize I’ve played the role of the fierce driver of the slave ship, whip in hand, scowling, shouting, even pouting, about our halting progress from week to week.”
His probing questions were his whip, barely a breath between each stabbing inquisition, leaving its mark on our minds in ways too irrevocable to be considered simply academic. He taught us craft by stripping our work to a skeleton and building it into a living narrative, one with a steady pulse and flesh and blood.
That night in December, as we sat and shared stories after a job well done that wasn’t quite done, George demanded we notice the moment and the people with whom we shared it. It was a time I won’t describe in detail, partially because I had one glass of Belgian ale too many, but mainly because its intimate properties are forever fixed in the moment, inextricably tied to the campfire flames, the Hemingway short story cigars, and the ephemeral glow of being in the presence of one’s people.
I will say this: I dispense praise infrequently and impartially, so when I do, you can take it to the bank. The life and legacy of George deserves more than just a brief and sentimental toast on a crisp Monday in December. Far after George’s bones are in the ground, we and others that follow will speak of him with respect, awe and gratitude. I’m grateful to have lived and recorded a sliver of it. Here’s to George, his work and all the ways in which he’s made us feel worthy of such a calling as storytelling.
Sarah Perry is a marketing project manager for LabCorp and a freelance writer in Greensboro, NC. While her day job is editing scientific and sales presentations, her true passion is incessantly pressing the dial button on George Getschow’s contact card in her phone.
My relationship with George Getschow has forever been punctuated by a beep, a pause, and a nasally message: “Hi! This is George Getschow.” (Or, on really bad days, “The voice mailbox belonging to this number is full.”)
That man will not answer his damn phone. The great thing is that the greatest lesson ol’ George taught me was to never give up.
So I keep on calling.
I first met George in August 2008 during his feature writing class. I’d moved from Kentucky to learn how to write, and Mitch Land promised me that George Getschow would turn me into a prolific journalist; no doubt I’d one day win a Pulitzer Prize (he was very convincing). I believed him.
On the first day of class, George wore his signature black jeans and black cowboy boots, and I’d already heard the legendary tales about him in the GAB halls. He was laboring over a book that was destined to be a New York Times bestseller, and he could turn any student into a literary nonfiction poetic powerhouse. Luckily for me, I was a Mayborn scholar, and I had to choose a mentor.
“What do you want from me?” George asked me when I eagerly informed him that I was his next protégé.
“Teach me everything you know.”
Over the next few years, George took me under his wing. He taught me what we all know as George jargon: how to write a nut graf — and identify it in one word — how to find the deepest meaning of a story, how to weave in universal truths, how to never, ever give up.
Each time I offered an excuse to George, he told me to figure it out. Once when I couldn’t find a source for a story, he told me to go knock on their door. When I proudly sent him my first cover story for Fort Worth Weekly, he called me and told me I’d messed up and that I should have asked the characters in the story how they transformed from animal lovers into running a puppy mill.
And he was right.
From George, I also learned how to study people, to shut up and really listen, and that being judgmental is (shocking!) a flaw, not a strength. George taught me to appreciate people in a way I never had before, to respect people no matter their circumstances or history or choices.
My relationship with George changed over the years from mentor to friend to father figure. When I took the leap from magazine writing into corporate marketing, George was the last person I wanted to tell that I’d crossed over to the dark side. But when he finally answered his phone, his only response was, “If you’re happy, that’s all I care about.”
Now this remarkable man is retiring to finish that surefire New York Times bestseller. I’m eagerly waiting on George to not give up, to not quit, to be relentless like he taught me. Sarita is calling, George. You best answer.
Michael J. Mooney writes for Texas Monthly, GQ, ESPN The Magazine, and several other publications. He’s also the co-director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
When I first met George, he was carrying dozens of books into the Spur Hotel in Archer City. It was the first day of the first Archer City class, and my first day of journalism school. Most of the students had driven out to the hotel the night before and we’d gathered that morning, wondering aloud what we’d all just gotten ourselves into. This was before the first Mayborn conference. Before sites like Longreads and Longform. Before magazines and newspapers all over the country created special sections and elaborate designs that accentuate narrative journalism. Back in 2005, we students weren’t so sure. What, exactly, was this “literary nonfiction?”
George showed us. In the works that we read and discussed as a class. In the lectures, about building characters and establishing “a sense of place.” Though many of us had been reading magazines and nonfiction books for a while by then, this was the first time most of us heard about applying the tools of fiction writing to a world of verifiable facts.
Several of the people in that class, and the subsequent classes in Archer City, have gone on to work for big-name newspapers and magazines. Several have secured book deals with important publishers. And a few have remained close friends, attending each other’s weddings and celebrating each other’s accomplishments. (Some of us even married our fellow students.) Though it’s not as often as we’d like, we still get together and talk about stories, and we still edit each other.
This is the foundation of what George often calls “The Tribe.” It’s a term I haven’t always been comfortable with. I don’t really consider myself a “joiner” per se. I’m also from a different, more sensitive generation, and that word has the ring of cultural appropriation. But it’s also accurate. This group of writers and editors, of friends and family, has a special bond. It’s apparent anytime there’s a get-together, but especially at the annual Mayborn conference.
And George himself has had an outsized influence on the lives of his former students. He hasn’t just helped us make our stories better. He’s also helped us get jobs and establish careers. He’s given us advice: about interviewing and immersing ourselves in stories, about dealing with editors, about dealing with readers. (The author Bryan Burrough has a great story about the time George, a Wall Street Journal bureau chief in Houston at the time, yelled at him until he cried — because Burrough had been rude to a newspaper subscriber.)
So there’s some irony in the fact that it’s so hard to find the right words to describe what George means to us. There’s no single story that explains his role — not even a massive tome could do it justice. For me, he’s been more than a mentor in the professional sense of the word. He’s been more than a friend. He’s been a proud surrogate father, encouraging me at every stage of my career. I still ask his advice all the time. I’m still excited to share new stories and life updates with him. I’m still as motivated and inspired by him as I was in Archer City all those years ago.
I joke about how much credit George takes for my success and the successes of other people in his sphere of influence. “When George met me, I was a young Bolivian boy who spoke no English,” I sometimes say. Or: “George is responsible for so many of the accomplishments of his students — just ask him!” But the jokes are based in truth. There’s no way to know where any of us would be if not for George. But we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Sometimes I still wonder what I got myself into when I signed up for that first class. I wonder what I got myself into by becoming a member of the storytelling tribe George willed into existence. But I know I’m glad I did.
Eric Nishimoto has been many things, most recently an author of a historical novella and a historical memoir in the works, and an adjunct professor at the Mayborn. Thanks to George Getschow and Cathy Booth Thomas he deluded himself into thinking that he could actually lead the Mayborn magazine class this year.
The Man has given me the one Thing I have been searching for my whole life.
Big statement, but George Getschow is a Big Man. Or at least his mind and heart are. Big enough to hold the keys to the literary universe, whether it’s teaching us aspiring but relatively illiterate students how to really write, or creating the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and growing it into the country’s premiere gathering of accomplished and not-yet-there writers to share the love of story, or knowing that a small nondescript town in the middle of nowhere Texas was actually the undiscovered birthplace for writers, leading to the now extinct but storied Archer City Writers Workshop. And big enough to care that all he’s learned in a lifetime devoted to and sacrificed for the craft should be passed down to those of us trying to follow after him.
But I come to thank George, not to eulogize him.
Thank you, George, for showing me how to be a real writer, which goes way beyond the mechanics and pretty words to the rigors of sharpening your mind and tenderizing and toughening your heart at the same time.
Thank you, George, for showing me how good a writer I can be while simultaneously showing me how awful a writer I am. And for actually making me want to rewrite a piece (are my sixteen rewrites still a record?).
Thank you, George, for showing me how to toast, not in a jejune Toastmasters way, but on a tailgate under an unlimited starry sky to relative strangers, with you pushing me to expose my innermost thoughts and heart in a vigorous exercise in expressive thought.
Thank you, George, for showing me how much I can actually drink and still function, and for somehow showing me that all that can actually be purposeful.
Thank you, George, for helping me finally discover what I was born to do, so I can live the rest of my life with no regrets. And for being an inspirational mentor and a dear friend.